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Chute Savvy For Auction Market Staff

Thirty-one people from seven auction markets in Saskatchewan and Alberta attended Canada’s first stockmanship school for auction market personnel in Saskatoon recently as part of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan’s (FACS) four-day Stockmanship Series.

The session was led by Curt Pate, a stockman and horseman from South Dakota, and Dr. Ron Gill, a rancher and livestock specialist with Texas A & M’s AgriLife extension service. They facilitated the first auction market stockmanship seminars in the U. S. last year and recently set up a new business, Effective Stockmanship, to offer training to the North American livestock industry.

As Gill explains it, low-stress handling is simply good business for markets. The result is fewer injuries to employees and animals, less wear and tear on the facility, increased efficiency and overall profitability and a better image, both with buyers and the general public.

In today’s world feedlots know where their cattle are bought and how they perform, and are less likely to buy from a market with a poor record for illness.

Too often, we also forget that the way auction market employees do their jobs in presenting cattle to the buyers has an impact on sellers’ returns — an extra cent may make the difference as to whether or not their child gets to attend college that year, Pate adds.

And, according to those who attended this session, calves have become more difficult to handle now that so many producers have shifted to later calving. Calves are born on pasture are rarely handled and may never see the inside of a corral until they’re loaded for market.

The course also addresses the fact that many market employees today don’t come from farm backgrounds and have to learn animal handling on the job while under pressure to sort, weigh and move animals quickly through the ring on sale day.

“There’s never time to analyze and learn. Eventually, bad handling becomes normal,” Pate explains. “Reflect on what you are doing, make a plan for improvement and figure out how to make it work. Remember, just because it doesn’t work the first time, doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan.”

Five principles

Sorting on the take-in side, getting cattle to move out of the hole into the ring on sale day, and groups of cattle stalling in the alleyway are the major high-stress situations for employees and cattle.

“The role of a stockman is to create movement, then use his or her own position to control and manage the movement of the cattle to achieve a desired result,” says Pate. When movement is lost, excessive pressure and driving aids are more likely to be used to force movement.

“Low-stress livestock handling is not about handling cattle with no pressure,” he adds. “Lots of times we use too little pressure, then end up using too much to try to fix the situation.”

Success depends on knowing when, where and how much pressure to apply. Set the cattle up to go where you want them to go before you apply pressure, then release the pressure as soon as the desired result is achieved. Old habits, such as continually tapping the last animal in line with a stock cane or the constant sound of whistling, shouting or rattle paddles are counterproductive.

Pate and Gill outline the five basic principles of cattle behaviour that can be used to reduce stress and increase efficiency at markets.

Cattle want to see you

Vision is the only effective way to communicate with most cattle. Cattle

have a keen sense of vision from their eyes forward except for a small blind spot directly in front of their faces. They don’t have clear vision of objects alongside their bodies from behind the eye to the blind spot angling back from the pin bones. When you are in this position, the cattle will only be able to pick up motion and will lose track if you stand still for very long. Sudden movement after standing still will startle cattle because it will seem to them that you came out of nowhere. Moving toward the blind spot behind an animal will cause it to turn its head to try to keep you in clear sight.

When working a group of cattle from behind, initiate or speed up movement by walking from the side through the hip of the last animal in line. Continue to move in a straight line back and forth at a safe distance behind the last animal. The trick is to watch the nose of the animal at the front of the line. Try to keep it pointed in the direction you want the cattle to move by using your position on either side of the animal at the back of the line. To “hook the eye” (catch the attention) of the animal at the front of the line, step out to the side until you see its nose, then step in toward or behind the eye to make it turn.

This principle can be used to your advantage to initiate a change in direction from behind if, at the right moment, you’re on the same side as the direction in which you want the cattle to turn. For example, if you want the cattle to turn left to exit the ring, step out to the left side of the group. The lead animal will spot the exit when it turns its head to see you. The person at the exit gate should back up, then ease toward the gate to take advantage of the second principle.

Cattle want to go around you

There are two advantages to working cattle from the front of the line: it prevents them from wanting to turn to keep you in their line of sight and it takes advantage of their natural instinct to go around you.

The key is to position yourself such that when the animals do go around you they are pointed directly at the gate you had in mind — they’ll think it was their idea to go there. Sound stockmanship involves getting animals to decide to do what you want them to do without using force.

Moving in and out of the flight zone and working behind the point of balance of the cattle at the front will draw the group forward and past you. Pate and Gill stress using the eye rather than the shoulder as the general point of balance. If you move with the cattle and pass the point of balance, the animal will slow down or stop.

This technique works well when pulling pens if you work from the side you want the animals to turn on their way out of the pen.

Cattle want to be with other cattle

This instinct works in tandem with the second principle. If you start the front animals moving, the rest will follow. Though it may seem like it would take too long to let animals freely move

past you once or twice in an alley, you’ll gain back the time and then some during sorting once they know it’s okay to go past you.

Cattle Want To Return To Where They’ve Been

Cattle have an instinct to return to the last place that was safe or comfortable. The concept of a “return box” brings this principle together with the other four to make cattle work for you.

A return box is simply a small, dead-end pen behind the crowding alley. As cattle move from the holding pen and reach the end of the box, they will turn to go back to where they were. At this point, the gate to the holding pen has been closed and you have positioned yourself where they can easily see you as they begin to turn. This will be on the same side as the direction in which you want the cattle to turn as they leave the box. The leaders will want to move around you and will draw the rest into the crowding alley because it’s the only choice they have.

One auction market has successfully used this concept to get the cattle to move from the hole into the ring. The key to making it work was the person being in the correct position.

Taking it one step further, a design that allows cattle to move into the ring parallel to the crowd, turn around at the far side of the ring, then exit beside where they came in would make the better use of low-stress handling principles than the traditional layout. The typical design forces cattle to move from the hole directly into the pressure of the crowd, then find the exit on the other side of the auctioneer when they are distracted and frightened by the noise and the crowd.

Cattle can only process one main thought at a time

If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, you will need to change their minds before putting pressure on them. If you try to change an animal’s mind too quickly that’s when it’s likely to kick.

Fear is the biggest distraction and is definitely a factor when animals are entering the ring and when they stall in an alleyway.

An appropriate time to keep pressure on cattle is when they are moving from the hole into the ring so that they don’t have time to think their way out of pressure or about the commotion around the ring.

Pressure from behind isn’t the best tactic to use to get a stalled group moving again in an alleyway, but it may be the only one. Animals at the back and those in front of them initially have nowhere to go. Slow but steady pressure should be applied to the animals at the back to allow them to put pressure on the animals next to and ahead of them. Usually, movement will start through the group and force animals in the front to start moving away from the pressure and on down the alley. Too much pressure or pressure applied too quickly will create panic causing animals in the middle to bunch up or spill back over the person applying the pressure. This can be one of the leading causes of injury to livestock and the people handling them.

Pate and Gill leave with one final thought from the book, Don’t Squat With Your Spurs On — “the only way to work cattle quickly, is slowly.”

past you once or twice in an alley, you’ll gain back the time and then some during sorting once they know it’s okay to go past you.

Cattle Want To Return To Where They’ve Been

Cattle have an instinct to return to the last place that was safe or comfortable. The concept of a “return box” brings this principle together with the other four to make cattle work for you.

A return box is simply a small, dead-end pen behind the crowding alley. As cattle move from the holding pen and reach the end of the box, they will turn to go back to where they were. At this point, the gate to the holding pen has been closed and you have positioned yourself where they can easily see you as they begin to turn. This will be on the same side as the direction in which you want the cattle to turn as they leave the box. The leaders will want to move around you and will draw the rest into the crowding alley because it’s the only choice they have.

One auction market has successfully used this concept to get the cattle to move from the hole into the ring. The key to making it work was the person being in the correct position.

Taking it one step further, a design that allows cattle to move into the ring parallel to the crowd, turn around at the far side of the ring, then exit beside where they came in would make the better use of low-stress handling principles than the traditional layout. The typical design forces cattle to move from the hole directly into the pressure of the crowd, then find the exit on the other side of the auctioneer when they are distracted and frightened by the noise and the crowd.

Cattle can only process one main thought at a time

If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, you will need to change their minds before putting pressure on them. If you try to change an animal’s mind too quickly that’s when it’s likely to kick.

Fear is the biggest distraction and is definitely a factor when animals are entering the ring and when they stall in an alleyway.

An appropriate time to keep pressure on cattle is when they are moving from the hole into the ring so that they don’t have time to think their way out of pressure or about the commotion around the ring.

Pressure from behind isn’t the best tactic to use to get a stalled group moving again in an alleyway, but it may be the only one. Animals at the back and those in front of them initially have nowhere to go. Slow but steady pressure should be applied to the animals at the back to allow them to put pressure on the animals next to and ahead of them. Usually, movement will start through the group and force animals in the front to start moving away from the pressure and on down the alley. Too much pressure or pressure applied too quickly will create panic causing animals in the middle to bunch up or spill back over the person applying the pressure. This can be one of the leading causes of injury to livestock and the people handling them.

Pate and Gill leave with one final thought from the book, Don’t Squat With Your Spurs On — “the only way to work cattle quickly, is slowly.”

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